Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) drives to the basket past Golden State Warriors defenders Andre Iguodala (9), Stephen Curry (30), and Kevin Durant (35) during the first half in Game 2 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals, Wednesday, May 16, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Beard's streak

OK, when back in my high school basketball days, going into every game the goal was to get to double figures. (That goal was two-fold: Points for the cause, and everyone who scored 10 or more normally got their name in the paper. So what.)

Well, the only two games in which I did not reach that was my first varsity start — the second game of my sophomore season at Douglas County because I took one shot — and Senior night against McEachern when I went 1-for-13 in easily the worst athletic performance of my life and maybe of all time.

In retrospect, it was pretty cool. In the current state, it is a hollow testament to what James Harden is doing at the highest level of the game.  

First, a disclaimer: I loathe watching James Harden play the game of basketball. Loathe it. Dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble, ball fake, dive into the defender and shoot free throws or dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble, step back (and take a couple extra steps) and shoot the 3. And, the fifth-graders I coach love to try that move. (Being Ebenezer Scrooge meets John Wooden, I stop it immediately and tell them to work on, you know, shots they actually may use in the game.)

That said, Harden's measure of consistent production is staggering. 

He scored 44 last night as the Rockets downed Phoenix. It's the 27th straight game Harden has topped 30 points. Yes, 27 straight. The only longer streaks in the history of the league are by Wilt Chamberlain, who had streaks of 65 and 31 games with 30 or more.

Harden joins Wilt, MJ and Rick Barry as the only players with 20 40-point games in the first 50 games of any season. And the only players with more 40-point games in the last 30 seasons was Kobe (who had 27 one year) and MJ, who had 22 in the late 1980s.

For measure of Harden's 20 40-point games Dirk Nowitzki, who is seventh all-time in scoring, has 20 games with 40 or more points. In his career. 

Staggering, right? He's played 50 games and is averaging 36.5 points with 6.8 rebounds and 8.0 assists. And here's one more: Through his 50 games this season, his 658 3-point attempts is already the seventh most in a single season in NBA history with 29 games left. The record is 886 (Steph Curry in 2015-16) and with Harden averaging more than 13 3s per, he's on pace for well more than 1,000 if he plays the rest of Houston's games.

Football still around

We joked yesterday that football season ended Sunday. In most years, that's the case. When the Super Bowl ends, the action does not return until Labor Day.

Well, the AAF — the American Alliance of Football — is hoping to fill that void starting this weekend. Yes, this weekend.

Unlike the goal of the first run of the XFL — which tried any and everything and was determined to be a cross between the NFL and pro wrestling — the AAF is trying to be very similar to the NFL.

In fact, the end game for either league — XFL 2.0 will start next spring — should be to be some form of NFL minor league system. There are not enough markets — at least not currently — to have a fair team for each of the 32 teams to have a direct minor league team. The AAF has eight teams, so maybe each division could send their practice squad guys or long-term projects to one team and go accordingly.

That would allow for a connection between NFL fans looking down the road. 

We have also discussed the need for the AAF and the XFL next year to embrace the betting aspects — including fantasy football — that the NFL has used as a springboard. 

And we thought some of the wrinkles the AAF has installed are interesting. No TV timeouts. A 35-second-play clock. No kickoffs, in part for player safety and in part to get the average game time to less than two hours and 30 minutes.

Also in the AAF, every player — be it the QB or the back-up left guard — has a three-year, non-guaranteed $250,000 contract and can earn more with individual or team-based bonuses.

Should be interesting. But for how long?

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Kentucky's Tyler Herro (14) drives near Mississippi State's Nick Weatherspoon during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

College hoops 104

Depth. Every coach wants it. Every team certainly can use it.

But does every champion need it?

Let's explore. Duke has two dudes — Zion and RJ Barrett — who if the season ended right now, would almost assuredly be first-team All-Americans.

Tennessee has a multiple offense options, including player of the year candidate Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.

Kentucky has even more balance with four guys that are legit offensive options. 

Those are the three best teams in the country in our view, and I believe Duke's A-game is the best in America and UK's C-game is better than UT or Duke's C-game because of that balance. 

It also leads us to wonder if we are undervaluing Gonzaga in the grand scheme of things because they have two front court cats — Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura — who also are very good.

If we had to rank top tandems, we'd go Duke, UT and Gonzaga.

If we had to rank top starting fives though, we'd likely go Duke, UK, and then UT, if that makes sense.


This and that

— Major congrats to Josh P. for a dazzling 9-1 showing and 53 on the button for the tie-breaker to win our first annual Super Prop Bets at the Super Bowl Super Contest. If you think you had a better showing, speak now or forever hold your peace until the next free 5-at-10 chance to win stuff. Side note: You guys crushed the props we offered. There were a slew of you guys and gals who went 8-2 or 7-3. That would have been entertaining for sure.

— And with the results of the Rasmussen poll of President Trump's rating at 45 percent going into tonight's State of the Union, we wrap another season of football picks. We offered four picks Friday for the Super Bowl — Pats minus-2.5, Under 56.5, Longest FG (53) > Trump's approval rating, and the roof being closed at kickoff — and hit them all. That raps our NFL picks — we started the first weekend of December — at 22-9-1 against the spread. That's a slight smidge under 71 percent friends, and that's highly entertaining. 

— Speaking of picks, after the weekend we are back with our college hoops entertainment advice. After the weekend: Missed Michigan on Friday and LSU-Arkansas on Saturday, and hit Duke, Syracuse and Kentucky on Saturday. That means we are 8-4-1 on college hoops picks against the number. Tonight, we will roll with     

— Speaking of college hoops picks, last night was a painful beat for betters on Iowa State and the under. Down 75-71 as a 2.5-point underdog with a total set at 146.5, Oklahoma dribbled up the floor and Jamal Bieniemy hit a 3 from the top of the key to flip the spread and topple the total. To make matters worse, the video showed that BIeniemy still had the ball in his hand when the backboard lit up, which signals the clock at 0:00, and the refs did not review it because it did not change the ultimate outcome.

— Thought this was very interesting. It's the fastest growing job in each of our 50 states. In Tennessee, it's dietetic technician. In Georgia, it's costume attendant, which screams to the growing number of movies and TV shows being filmed in Georgia. And looking at different energies is obviously growing since there are several states — including New Jersey and Minnesota — that list 'Solar Panel Installer' — and a few others — like Iowa and Colorado — that list 'Wind Turbine Service Technician' as the fastest growing. 

Today's questions

True or false, the AAF will be here three years from today.

True or false, James Harden should repeat as the NBA MVP.

True or false, Duke is the best team in college basketball.

On this day soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo (34) and Neymar (27) were born. Bobby Brown is 50 today.

Hank Aaron is 85 today. Dude is an all-timer and still seems underrated.

Darrell Waltrip is 72 today.

Rushmore of best former champions-turned-announcers across all sports. (And champion is the key there.)